Thursday, July 10, 2014

Feminist Doctor Who, Part 5: Amy Pond

I’m a Whovian, which means that I’m a member of the Doctor Who fandom. Doctor Who, the smash BBC hit that was named the longest-running science fiction television show by Guinness World Records, was revived in 2005 after over a decade of hiatus. Throughout the classic show and modern revival, the Doctor travels in his TARDIS spaceship through time and space with companions, saving small cities as well as the entire universe from disaster. Many feminist Whovians have analyzed the Doctor and his companions’ representations of gender, race, and sexuality; in this series, I give some of my own interpretations.

Amy Pond is the first companion to travel with the Doctor as portrayed by Matt Smith. She is the only full-time companion in the modern revival to join the Doctor in the TARDIS for more than two series, from Series 5 until midway through Series 7.

Personally, Amy is probably my least favorite companion. After really liking her predecessors Rose, Martha, and Donna, Amy was a bit of a letdown, particularly because she was on the show for over two seasons. While watching, I felt that Amy had a lot of potential to be an interesting, well-rounded, evolving character, but Doctor Who head honcho Steven Moffat really squandered the opportunity.

I think that Amy can accurately be summarized through three tropes of female characters: sexual, damsel, and mother. 

Numerous feminist Whovians have pointed out that Amy is sexualized in a way that the other companions are not. When the Doctor meets Amy as an adult for the first time, she is dressed as a police officer. She’s not actually a cop, though! No, she’s a kiss-o-gram playing an officer. Although most of the Doctor’s companions have jobs that they don’t like or are considered low status – Rose is a shop girl, Donna is a temp, Clara is a nanny – Amy is the first whose profession is sexualized in such a way. Honestly, using the word “profession” to describe her stint as a kiss-o-gram is questionable; she is not shown to like the work she is doing, or as ever doing it again. The next time we learn of her taking a job, she is working as a model – another sexualized career choice.

Of course, there is nothing wrong or anti-feminist with being a kiss-o-gram or model, but the way the show has Amy doing it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t get the feeling that she’s owning her sexuality and being sexual for her own sake; rather, she’s being sexualized, dressing and acting for the male Whovian’s gaze. I think I get this impression because, in general, she is never really her own person. She’s the Doctor’s companion, Rory’s wife, River Song’s mother…never just Amy alone, in the way that Rose, Martha, and Donna were. The audience just doesn’t know Amy’s personality well enough to be able to judge if she’s sexualizing herself because she wants to.

Amy also frequently plays the damsel in distress. Certainly, there are a number of episodes in which she does a lot for her own sake (and the world’s), like in “The Girl Who Waited” and “The Curse of the Black Spot.” However, in general, she tends to kind of sit around and wait for the Doctor (or even Rory) to swoop in. I think this is best illustrated by the fact that she’s kidnapped by Madame Kovarian and waits for the Doctor to save her. Admittedly, she can’t really fight back while being held against her own will in an induced sleep, but Moffat could’ve had her break herself free somehow. I mean, he’s writing the plots. But noooo, she has to be saved by the Doctor, the Sleeping Beauty awakened by the Prince’s kiss.

Although other companions come to take on a mothering role with the Doctor, Amy quite literally becomes his mother-in-law. She is the only companion to have a child (she’s also the only companion to be married while traveling with the Doctor), and she comes to be defined by her biological role. Her value is largely derived from mothering River, and River’s value is largely derived from being the Doctor’s wife. It all boils down to their connection with a Doctor, and not their own inherent worth.

According to a recent study, episodes with Amy only pass the Bechdel test 53% of the time. This is in stark comparison to the Doctor’s three previous full-time female companions, whose episodes pass the Bechdel test 74%, 78%, and 100%, respectively. I’m not surprised.

I’m not sure if I can say that Amy is a feminist character. Although she has some good moments, she tends to fall into sexist media tropes and does not do much to challenge those stereotypes. Amy is needlessly sexualized throughout her time in the TARDIS, and not in a way that I believe is feminist. She largely depends on the Doctor and Rory to save her, and is rarely given any agency of her own. She adopts a mothering role, both literally and metaphorically, with the Doctor. I really blame Moffat for letting the opportunity for a really fierce, awesome, well-rounded female character just slip through his fingers, and can only hope that he’ll break this pattern in the upcoming Series 8.

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